Film Critics Review the Beautiful Boxer
This 2003 Thai film that follows the biography of a famous kick boxer is an artistic and slightly controversial movie. The creativity has been recognized with several awards, including the Best Feature Film at the Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Sebastian Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Actor and kick boxer Asanee Suwan plays the role of Nong Toom, the main character who was born male but identifies as female and is courageous enough to pursue her journey towards femininity while maintaining a successful career in a very public domain. The hero/heroine faces a personal struggle about identity, and combats homophobia head on. Viewers responded well to the poignant story, and now it’s the critics’ turn to weigh in and let us know what they thought.
Part of the appeal of Beautiful Boxer is that it’s based on a true story that most of us won’t believe. A Buddhist monk delves into competitive kickboxing to raise the money he needs for a sex change operation, and then moves to Bangkok to become a model. The plot seems like a stretch even for fiction. However, the director Ekachai Uekrogtham brings the story to life and makes the main character, Nong Toom, courageous, likeable, and deserving of our compassion. For those who like drama, there are themes of personal struggle, self-identity, and homophobia, while those drawn to action won’t be disappointed by the movie’s many fight scenes.
David Parkinson of Empire Magazine is a huge fan of Nong Toom’s story, but criticizes director Ekachai Uekrongtham for oversimplifying Toom’s life struggle in the film. In the movie, there are plenty of obstacles along the way to kick boxing fame and success, but Parkinson doesn’t feel that the sexual identity of the hero/heroine was adequately explored. The desire to have a sex change operation is often accompanied by a lot of personal pain and confusion that could have added a layer of depth to the drama. With a little extra emotional insight, this already popular movie could have risen to the next level of artistic performance. Overall, the critic felt the movie was stylish but the plot was too straightforward.
The critic who writes for Capital Times, Rob Thomas, had similarly mixed feelings about Beautiful Boxer. The biography certainly is a unique story, and no one will ever confuse this movie about a transgendered kickboxing champion with any other film. However, while Nang Toom’s story is actually a sensitive one, the movie brings in a little too much action with the kickboxing scenes. This exaggeration detracts from the weight of the story, as does the tagline, “He fought like a man to become a woman.” While director Uekrongtham was very careful not to exploit aspects of the biography or dwell unnecessarily on the sexual undertones, he may have been a bit too careful.
Beautiful Boxer has a run time of about two hours, and the action drags from time to time. Uekrongtham uses a framing approach where we see Toom telling his story to a journalist at various points throughout the movie, but this creative tool doesn’t hold together well and could have been omitted without detracting from the film.
While the critics were able to find a few aspects of Beautiful Boxer to be faulty, the overall consensus is that the movie is well worth watching. Clearly there are lessons to be learned about identity, compassion, gender labels, and determination. It is not often that such a unique story gets translated onto the big screen where so many of us can enjoy it.